Utah bill would bring ID-based age verification to online platforms

A state lawmaker in Utah has introduced a bill that would require teens to get parental consent before they can use social media. The bill would require handing over more personal information to check the age of platform users.

This week, State Sen. Mike McKell introduced SB 152, a bill that would require social media platforms to not only verify age but also require children under the age of 18 to get a parent’s approval before creating a social media account.

We obtained a copy of the bill for you here.

The bill calls for users of platforms to show a valid driver’s license, a birth certificate, a currently valid passport, or a currently valid identification card or certificate.

The bill would also allow parents to have access to their child’s social media accounts.

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Department of Health and Human Services is sued after ignoring freedom of information request over censorship demands

Activist group Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for all records and communications between the Surgeon General’s office and social media companies about COVID-19 vaccines.

Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit after the HHS refused to adequately respond to a FOIA request filed in March 2022.

We obtained a copy of the complaint for you here.

The request was for: “All records, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, texts, memoranda, and handwritten notes, of, regarding, referring, or relating to any efforts of Alexandria Phillips, Communications Director, Office of the Surgeon General, to contact any employee of Facebook, Twitter, TikTokInstagram, Snapchat, Reddit, YouTube, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Pinterest concerning COVID-19 vaccines.”

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has previously called for censorship of Covid misinformation. In 2021, he published a report titled “Confronting Health Misinformation,” which aimed to “slow the spread of health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”

The report encouraged platforms to censor vaccine misinformation and other misinformation related to the pandemic.

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Left-wing think tank responsible for thousands of fake Russia stories: new Twitter Files

A left-wing think tank erroneously claiming to track Russian online activity was responsible for thousands of bogus stories asserting the nation’s influence in US politics, according to the latest batch of Twitter Files.

The Hamilton 68 “dashboard” was the brainchild of former FBI special agent and MSNBC contributor Clint Watts and operated under the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a think tank founded in 2017 — shortly after former President Trump took office.  

The ASD Advisory Council included such figures as top Clinton ally John Podesta, Obama-era acting CIA Director Michael Morell, former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, and former conservative activist Bill Kristol.

The latest Twitter Files disclosure, the 15th so far, revealed how Hamilton 68’s Russian bot dashboard repeatedly insisted there was widespread and deep Russian penetration of social media and unveiled that Twitter executives frequently challenged those claims internally.

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Meta Global Affairs Pres: We’re Not ‘Truth Police,’ But We’ll Restrict Trump’s Account if He Casts Doubt on Elections

During a portion of an interview with NBC News Senior Washington Correspondent Hallie Jackson released on Thursday, Meta President for Global Affairs Nick Clegg stated that if former President Donald Trump uses “Facebook and Instagram to cast doubt on and delegitimize the upcoming election,” they will limit the reach of his posts and possibly could keep his posts from being reshared and restrict his ability to run political ads on the platforms, but maintained Meta is not the “truth police, never have been, and we’ll never seek to be.”

Clegg stated, “[I]f he kind of sails…close to the wind and tries to use Facebook and Instagram to cast doubt on and delegitimize the upcoming election, we’ll also take measures like letting him post, but not necessarily having that post appear in people’s feeds, possibly removing the reshare button so people can’t reshare his posts, and if he keeps doing that, possibly also restricting his ability to run political ads on Facebook and Instagram.”

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Meta gave the CDC de facto power to police Covid “misinfo”

The mask is slipping (pun fully intended), all over the place – regarding the Big Tech/Big Government collusion. Now it’s time to pay close attention to the role played by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

We’ve already been awed – just by the magnitude of the whole thing – if not exactly “shocked” by the Twitter Files.

After all, while it was happening, a whole lot of observers surmised that something of the sort had to be behind the unprecedented and, seemingly inexplicable levels of censorship on the platform.

But – what in the world was happening at Facebook, around the same time? After all, Facebook is an almost orders of magnitude bigger and more influential social network than Twitter.

For the time being, we don’t have the same “direct line” to internal documents as is the case with Twitter, which was made possible by the dedication to transparency by the new owner himself.

However, what could be dubbed as the “Facebook Files” are based on credible sources, too – Reason is coming out with a story based on confidential emails that emerged thanks to a court case – the state of Missouri suing the Biden administration.

The emails show that Facebook (and by extension Instagram) representatives and the CDC not only kept in touch at all times, but that the tech giant also “routinely asked government health officials to vet claims relating to the virus, mitigation efforts such as masks, and vaccines.”

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Internews President to WEF: “Gendered disinformation” is “terrifying,” online platforms need to keep people safe

It’s entirely unsurprising that Brian Stelter, once of CNN, has gotten the gig of moderating a panel at this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) Davos conference.

And it’s no shocker that stuff like the apparently extremely dangerous problem of “gendered disinformation” was what he got to discuss.

Stelter – a self-styled technology and “misinformation” expert, whose sometimes astonishing takes in support of censorship were given air on the cable channel during the worst days of the pandemic-and-elections-induced free speech crises of the past years – hosted a Davos event called, “Clear and Present Danger of Disinformation.”

Panelists included EU Commissioner Vera Jourova, New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, US Democrat Congressman Seth Moulton, and Jeanne Bourgault, CEO of Internews.

And Stelter wanted to know how the discussion related to “everything else” that was happening in the world elites’ stomping ground of Davos.

In response, Sulzberger voiced a dramatic warning: whatever he defines as disinformation is “the most existential problem” in the world, the publisher said – it is “attacking trust” and causing societies to “fracture.”

Now, those who might think “Internews” is a news organization would be mistaken; it is a nonprofit with as many as 30 offices around the world, where it supports “independent media” in 100 countries.

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Social Media Is Influencing Teens To Adopt Mental Illness Identities, Researchers Say

Researchers have examined the troubling trend of teens self-diagnosing mental illness through social media. 

new paper published earlier this month in Comprehensive Psychiatry proposed that “social contagion” through prolonged social media use can explain why some teens, mostly adolescent females, self-diagnose their purported rare mental illnesses and personality disorders online. 

“We believe there is an urgent need for focused empirical research investigation into this concerning phenomenon that is related to the broader research and discourse examining social media influences on mental health,” said the study’s lead author, John D. Haltigan, and co-author, Gayathiri Rajkumar, in a recent article for Reality’s Last Stand.

The paper focused on the uptick in teens presenting with tics with no known biological cause and the resurgence of the extremely rare multiple personality disorder, now called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), in which a person claims to harbor multiple distinct personalities. Also mentioned are the prevalence of autism, depression, eating disorders, and gender identity-related conditions on social media. 

“That rates of teen and adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation have risen precipitously since the advent of social media and smartphones is likely no coincidence,” the authors said.

The paper proposes that social media platforms like TikTok, whose core user base are teen girls, and the popularity of online communities that glamorize mental illness, may act as a “spread vector” for adolescents to adopt various disorders as part of their online personas.

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When Does an Ugly Facebook Message Qualify as an Illegal ‘True Threat’ of Violence? SCOTUS Will Decide.

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment,” the U.S. Supreme Court said in Texas v Johnson (1989), “it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” What that principle means in practice is that all sorts of vile and despicable speech—including hate speech—are constitutionally protected.

But the Court has also said that the First Amendment has its limits. One of them involves “true threats” of violence, which the Court in Virginia v. Black (2003) defined as “those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.” The First Amendment, the Court held, “permits” the government “to ban a ‘true threat.'”

Deciding what actually counts as a “true threat” is not such an easy task, however, as the Supreme Court seems to recognize. Last week, the Court agreed to hear arguments in Counterman v. Colorado, which asks, in the question presented to the Court, “whether, to establish that a statement is a ‘true threat’ unprotected by the First Amendment, the government must show that the speaker subjectively knew or intended the threatening nature of the statement, or whether it is enough to show that an objective ‘reasonable person’ would regard the statement as a threat of violence.”

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UK’s online censorship bill has amendment that targets non-citizens

The UK’s messy Online Safety Bill, that its authors say is designed to protect children from online harms, keeps causing controversies and rifts – but also continues to “grow” through amendments, some of which observers find difficult to decipher.

A recent one aims to prevent children from accessing content that would inform them about what might turn into dangerous ways to cross the channel between the UK and France.

Specifically, the amendment speaks about crossing the English channel “with the aim of entering the UK in a vessel unsuited or unsafe for those purposes,” and references a popular way in which illegal immigrants have taken to enter the country.

But now, the question is being asked, who do UK’s legislators think they are legislating for? The bill would impose legal requirements in the country, but the amendment suggests that it would somehow be used to restrict access to certain content to those outside it – and, it seems, mostly non-citizens.

This is far from the only example of contentious or just baffling provision in the proposal. This week, the draft caused a “rebellion” staged by members of parliament from the ruling Conservative party.

Namely, close to 50 Conservative MPs had an amendment of their own – one to add the possibility of imprisoning social media execs, in case their platforms are found not to be adhering to the bill’s provisions to protect children from content such as child abuse, suicide and self-harm.

If found guilty, under the future law, these high ranking representatives of tech companies would be put in jail for up to two years, the amendment said.

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Rep. Adam Schiff’s staffers repeatedly asked Twitter to censor memes

The latest batch of Twitter Files, released on Friday by independent journalist Matt Taibbi, showed that Rep. Adam Schiff’s office repeatedly contacted Twitter requesting the removal of posts critical of Joe Biden and staff at Schiff’s office.

“Staff of House Democrat @AdamSchiff wrote to Twitter quite often, asking that tweets be taken down,” Taibbi wrote. “This important use of taxpayer resources involved an ask about a ‘Peter Douche’ parody photo of Joe Biden. The DNC made the same request.”

Taibbi said that Schiff’s office pestered Twitter to remove the parody photo after former President Donald Trump retweeted it.

“To its credit, Twitter refused to remove it, with Trust and Safety chief Yoel Roth saying it had obvious ‘humorous intent’ and ‘any reasonable observer’ – apparently, not a Schiff staffer – could see it was doctored,” Taibbi wrote. “Schiff staffer Jeff Lowenstein didn’t give up, claiming there was a ‘slippery slope concern here.’”

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